School Districts Will Pilot
Ideas for Publicly Funded Preschools
By Larry LeDoux, Alaska Education Commissioner
April 25, 2009
Giving our children high-quality care from birth to age 6 is
one of the best ways we can prepare them for success at school
-- and throughout their lives. The Palin administration will
help more Alaska parents achieve this level of care, whether
their children are at home or in preschools.
We are grateful that the Alaska State Legislature approved the
Governor's request for $2 million to fund a pilot program of
preschools that would be operated by school districts. The department
is preparing its request for proposals by which districts will
Publicly funded preschool is not a new idea, and it has benefited
children elsewhere in the United States. Two-thirds of the states
offer publicly funded preschool to at least part of their young
population. Publicly funded preschool is an investment that pays
off in successful students and more productive adults.
In the pilot we hope to serve up to 500 children, mostly four-year-olds,
in a half-day program during the school year before they enter
kindergarten. The programs would offer age-appropriate opportunities
for learning and socializing, health screenings, and nutritious
Additionally, the pilot programs will support parents -- both
those who enroll their children at child care centers and those
who educate their young children at home. The school districts,
for example, could provide library and other educational materials
or home visits similar to "parents as teachers" programs.
It is important to emphasize that the pilot's purpose is not
to replace Head Starts or private child care centers. There would
be no point spending public money to duplicate services.
The pilot has four purposes: to serve children who are not now
being served by preschools; to help parents who want more guidance
in educating their young children at home; to form partnerships
that would strengthen existing providers; and to try out different
ways of achieving quality care.
We anticipate that some of the pilots will be formed in communities
that do not have private day care centers or Head Starts. In
communities that have existing day care options, we anticipate
that many pilot school districts will partner with Head Starts
or private providers. The pilot preschool teachers might provide
services at those institutions, not at schools. That would be
a "one-stop-shopping" convenience for parents.
In preparing this pilot, we brought together Alaska experts in
early education, including providers from the private sector.
This committee gave us wise recommendations on how to operate
the pilot. Among their ideas that we embrace: Participating school
districts should form strong partnerships with existing providers;
don't let the pilot undermine the private sector; and let local
applicants decide what their community's needs are and how to
Because one of the goals is to let local school districts and
their partners try out various ideas, the Department of Education
& Early Development will manage the pilot with flexibility.
Another purpose of the pilot is to serve more children. It would
make no sense for the pilot to cause a reduction in the number
of children served by existing providers.
The fundamental issue is what is best for Alaska's children.
Head Start has a long waiting list. Some parents cannot afford
private child care. There are children who now go unserved.
Several years ago, Alaska's early educators -- from tribes, school
districts, the private sector, the state and the university --
created exceptionally well-thought-out early learning guidelines.
The pilot preschools would allow Alaskans from diverse communities,
working under varying conditions, to figure out how to bring
those guidelines to life throughout our state.
Alaska's preschool pilot is a step in the right direction of
preparing children for success at school and in life after school.
Alaska Education Commissioner
Received April 24 , 2009 -
Published April 25, 2009
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